Flood Hazard Management
Flood hazard management in Vermont is a collaborative effort that includes federal, state and town governments, regional planning commissions (RPC’s), non-profit watershed organizations, and individual landowners. The River Management Program (RMP) provides technical support and coordination for the implementation of flood hazard management programs throughout the State.
The Floodplain Management section of the RMP works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to oversee the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in Vermont. The NFIP is a voluntary program administered at the community level. Participating communities agree to manage floodplain development using building and land-use regulations. In return, residents have the ability to purchase flood insurance, apply for federally insured loans (such as mortgages), and receive flood disaster assistance. Most Vermont municipalities participate in the NFIP; to find out if your community participates visit FEMA's Community Status Book Report . While NFIP designated floodplains provide a useful management tool, they do not necessarily show the full extent of flood risk along Vermont streams and rivers. We encourage towns to be proactive in managing floodplains, and to adopt regulations that go beyond the minimum NFIP requirements.
Fluvial Erosion Hazard (FEH) mitigation is another flood hazard management tool used by the River Management Program. Fluvial erosion can range from gradual bank erosion to catastrophic changes in channel location and dimension during flood events. Fluvial erosion is the cause of a vast amount of flood damage in Vermont, but is not taken into account by NFIP maps. The FEH program works to map the extent of the floodplain susceptible to fluvial erosion and works with municipalities on limiting development in these sensitive areas. Adoption of FEH maps provides another tool for Vermont communities to determine flood risk, minimize flood losses, and protect our water resources. The River Management Program encourages Vermont communities to manage their floodplains based on both inundation and fluvial erosion hazards.
Floodplain Management through the NFIP
All areas in a community are susceptible to flooding, although to varying degrees. If your home is located in the SFHA, it has a 26% chance of being damaged by a flood over the course of a 30-year mortgage. Homes outside the SFHA may also have a substantial risk of flood damage. In fact, 25% of all flood claims occur in the low-to-moderate risk areas. Flood insurance is available to any property owner or renter in a community participating in the NFIP.
Here are a number of resources available from the RMP and FEMA to help understand the NFIP and development regulations in the SFHA:
Flood Hazard Maps
Maps of the flood hazard areas in your community can be viewed at your municipal office. The maps are also available in paper and pdf format through the FEMA Map Service Center and can be viewed and printed online at www.msc.fema.gov or ordered from (877) 336-2627.
Updates to the flood hazard maps are now underway in Bennington, Chittenden and Washington Counties as part of the FEMA Map Modernization Program. The final Chittenden County DFIRM panels and the Bennington County Preliminary DFIRM panels are now available on our site - click here to view the DFIRM page.
At this time, the following counties are not currently scheduled for map updates: Addison, Caledonia, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orange, and Orleans. VT DEC is working with FEMA to get the maps of the remaining eight counties updated. Beginning in October 2009 FEMA began to transition to “RiskMAP” (Risk Mapping Assessment and Planning). Under RiskMAP priorities for mapping will be identified through the Coordinated Needs Management Strategy. Mapping efforts will be directed on the basis of HUC-8 watersheds. In Vermont, work under RiskMAP has not been scheduled.
In Washington County a letter of final determination is tentatively anticipated in March 2011 leading to an effective date in September 2011. A Preliminary DFIRM for Washington County was released in May 2007 including new hydrological and hydraulic studies on the Winooski River, Stevens Branch, and Gunners Brook. Revised Preliminary DFIRM panels for Washington County were released June 15, 2009 including revised hydrology on Stevens Branch; new hydraulics and delineations along the Winooski River downstream from the Middlesex Dam #2; still water base flood elevations for Mirror Lake and East Montpelier Pond; and refinements to A Zone boundaries in Cabot, Calais, East Montpelier, Marshfield, Plainfield, and Worcester. Since that time additional data has been submitted by the City of Montpelier and will be incorporated into the final DFIRM. The City of Barre also appealed the preliminary hydrology on the revised DFIRM but did not provide data. At this time the City of Barre has requested a Scientific Review Panel to examine their submission.
In Chittenden County a letter of final determination was issued on January 18, 2011 setting an effective date of July 18, 2011. A Preliminary DFIRM was first released on July 10, 2009. The DFIRM included new topography and hydraulics along the Winooski River downstream to the Essex Dam #19 and redelineation below that point using contours with two foot intervals. Browns River received detailed study including topography, hydrology, and hydraulics. Additional data was submitted by the City of Burlington and incorporated into a revised Preliminary DFIRM as released September 8, 2010.
In Bennington County a Preliminary DFIRM was released on December 15, 2010 and two revised panels were issued on January 14, 2011. The Community Coordination Meeting on January 18, 2011 was postponed due to bad road conditions. A new date for the meetings has been set for February 9, 2011. Two (identical) meetings will be conducted, one at 1pm and the other at 7 pm at the Arlington Town Hall. Please contact Ned Swanberg to RSVP email@example.com .
At this time, the Preliminary Bennington County data should be reviewed by local officials. Any necessary corrections or questions should be sent to FEMA before the end of the Appeal Period (probably in May). If you have questions about the Preliminary DFIRM or FIS please touch base with Ned.
Communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) need to review and update their bylaws to adopt the new maps and confirm that the regulations meet or exceed the requirements for the program. Model bylaws are available below in pdf format. Bylaw updates need to be completed well before the effective date of the Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map. Working deadlines for bylaw amendments are currently: Chittenden County, April 2011; Washington County, May 2011; and Bennington County, November 2011.
For more information on the flood hazard map update process in Vermont, or for help with data, community bylaws, or insurance grandfathering opportunities, please contact Ned Swanberg at 802.490-6160 or firstname.lastname@example.org
FEMA Map Service Center msc.fema.gov 800.358.9616 The MSC has current / effective and historical flood hazard maps, floodway maps, flood insurance studies, letters of map change, and many other resources. Most of these are available on line.
Regulating Development in Vermont floodplains
The River Management Program recognizes that the best way to maintain healthy rivers and floodplains, as well as protect public safety, infrastructure and property, is to discourage development in NFIP floodplains and FEH corridors. The RMP helps to reduce flood risk by providing technical assistance to communities regulating floodplain development. Our office can provide general assistance and education about flood hazards and floodplain regulations, including the NFIP and Fluvial Erosion Hazards. Two of the primary ways we help communities regulate floodplain development are by reviewing municipal floodplain development permits and by assisting towns in developing community floodplain regulations.
Flood Hazard Area Regulations – To enable residents to acquire flood insurance, your community must participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and regulate development in the Special Flood Hazard Area. The regulations must meet or exceed the requirements of the NFIP. Vermont DEC has prepared model flood hazard regulations as posted below. These models meet or exceed the requirements of the NFIP as provided for under Vermont law in Title 24 VSA Chapter 117. When your community is updating your flood hazard regulations your Planning Commission should start with a current model and then work with your Regional Planning Commission or other consultants as appropriate. When your PC has prepared a draft, please send it to the Vermont DEC Floodplain Management Program for review. Comments will be returned within 30 days.
Many Vermont communities have structures built in the flood hazard area. To address this situation the community has a Hazard Mitigation Plan that informs the town plan, as well as local land use regulations to implement that plan. Inundation and erosion caused by flooding cause the largest annual disaster costs in Vermont. Additionally, in some towns, roads, bridges and critical facilities including emergency response centers are located in or near the flood hazard area. The risk of damage to structures in the flood hazard area may increase as development occurs in the watershed, and as the Vermont climate changes.
The FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) identify areas vulnerable to inundation during the base flood (the one percent annual chance flood). A structure in the flood hazard area has more than a one in four chance of getting flooded during a 30-year mortgage. The FIRM does not identify flooding risk due to dam breaks, most ice-jam flooding situations, nor areas (and public infrastructure) vulnerable to erosion caused by flooding. VT DEC has developed maps of Fluvial Erosion Hazard Zones for many municipalities, and recommends that Vermont municipalities regulate development and prohibit new structures in these zones.
The table below briefly describes four models and includes links to pdf versions of the texts.
Development Reviews - The NFIP defines development as the placement of fill, construction, dredging, drilling, grading, excavating, mining, and the storage of materials. NFIP regulations (44 CFR §60.3) require that a municipal permit be obtained for any development in a FEMA mapped floodplain. Vermont law (24 VSA §4424) requires that all municipal permit applications for floodplain development be sent to the River Management Program for a review and comment. The NFIP regulations can be complex, and this statute allows the RMP to ensure that floodplain development is compliant with the NFIP and FEH regulations in the community's ordinance. Our office can work with zoning officials and developers to suggest development alternatives to mitigate flood risk. Permit applications for floodplain development can be sent to the email or address below. Please call the office if you have any questions about this procedure.
We have compiled several resources, documents and organizations that can help provide further information on floodplain management:
VT DEC Watershed Management Division 1 National Life Drive, Main 2 Montpelier, VT 05620-3522 Tele: 802-828-1535 Fax: 802-828-1544
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